The CIO plays a significant role in his organization and helps in providing various technology solutions. He is often a part of transformational projects that provide a competitive edge to the organization.
The CIO in most cases is one who initially starts as a programmer or a systems analyst or a business analyst and slowly rises up in the organizational hierarchy or picks up another opportunity and then builds his career till he reaches the level of a CIO. There are of course cases of lateral entry and people from other disciplines moving in to take the position of a CIO. The CIO learns as he builds his career and gets better in terms of effectiveness. He becomes well-adept in understanding functional processes, systems analysis, project management, people management, organizational behavior, etc. He implements wonderful systems and makes an impact. In spite of his efforts he is sometimes not viewed very kindly by the management.
In spite of his efforts, at times, his work does not get the due credit from the management. Reasons could be many, however, in my opinion, he can try to enhance a few skills to create that impact. People may suggest that they attend workshops to develop their leadership qualities, management skills, etc; but here, I wish to deal with another factor which can be useful in making the CIO more effective.
A case for the CIO to pick up a different role
In his normal progression, as described above, the CIO develops into a functional head and like other functional managers acquires skill in his domain but has a narrow outlook. My suggestion is that he should, as a part of his career building exercise, consider parking himself with a consulting or an IT services organization for some time. This gives him an opportunity to look at organizations from the other side as he goes to user organizations and develops solutions for them. In the process he learns new skills which otherwise he would find difficult to acquire. Let me explain about the exposure that he gets and skills he learns.
1. Communication skills: As a consultant he is expected to convince the potential customer of his offering and this he does either through meetings (speaking and convincing skills) or by making presentations. He also gets better in the areas of persuasion and negotiation.
2. Writing skills: The engagement begins with his submitting a proposal to the client and then he has to follow it up with clarifications and justifications. His writing skills therefore get honed. When he becomes a CIO, he can use these skills for putting up proposals and justifications to the management and get them approved faster.
3. Management perspective: Consultants usually talk to the CEO or senior functionaries and take a note of their expectation and engage with them at defined stages of the project. By doing so they start looking at issues from the management’s perspective and this can be of immense help when they later assume the role of a CIO.
4. Project management skills: All consultants and service providers work on fixed timelines and costs. They learn how to draw time schedules & resource plan and have to monitor the progress on a regular basis. As we know any overrun on time or costs is viewed seriously. Project management skill therefore becomes a very useful ingredient of one’s role as a CIO.
5. Documentation: We all know that documentation of specifications, systems documentation, users manuals, policies etc. in user organizations are usually neglected or are poor. However for consultants / service providers this process is fully ingrained in their working. This can be a great advantage for such a CIO.
6. Understanding the customer: Whether at the time of selling their services, project stages or at completion, the consultant has always to be customer centric. For him his existence depends on keeping the customer happy. Now if he carries this perspective with him when he becomes a CIO, he will treat his internal customers with due care and will learn to build the right relationships.
Is it doable?
Well, I am sure, it is. After spending my initial five years with user organizations, I spent the next 10 years with a management consulting organization. What I learnt during this period was of immense value and at times I found myself doing things a little differently as a CIO than my peers in the industry. I was fortunate to have taken that step and I strongly advocate this strategy for career growth.